This Day in Ancient History: pridie kalendas martias

pridie kalendas martias

  • Amburbium — a ‘moveable feast’ which may or may not have actually been held on this day, but does seem to have happened near the end of February. A sacrificial procession was led around the boundaries of the city as a rite of purification.
  • 509 B.C. — During a major attempt by the expelled Tarquins to reclaim the throne of Rome, the consul Lucius Junius Brutus dies while engaged in single combat with Arruns Tarquin, who was also killed (according to one reckoning)
  • 116 A.D. — supplicatio pro salute Traiani (day 3)
  • 1631 — birth of Henry Stubbe (Greek and Latin scholar and author of a work which is rather timely today, it seems).

Suspicious Apollonia Drachma Sale?

As is my wont, this a.m. I woke up early to put together my Explorator newsletter and, as is its wont lately, my Internet connection was down. So I flip on the TV and am idly flipping through channels when I hit the Canadian version of the Shopping Channel, which had its ‘coin show’ on. Usually they are selling Canadian coins, but at this particular time they were selling silver drachms from Apollonia Pontika (it turns out) for a couple of hundred dollars each. Of course, they didn’t give a provenance for the coins, which seemed to be in incredibly good condition. The coin is up on their website (along with a video of the presentation I was watching; not sure how long this will be up). Now just so folks know, the coins appear to be Sear SG 1655. A number of (apparently) the same coins are up for sale on eBay. Price ranges from 99.00 to 176.00 on eBay.

Whatever the case, the Shopping Channel had 120 of them for sale and they sold at least 70 in the time I was watching. But I can’t help but wonder where the heck these coins came from. The Shopping Channel guy mentions in passing they came from a horde that was “found recently” but gives no more details. This is obviously a major horde, and if the eBay examples come from the same horde, it’s even larger.

Suspicious? If legit, the lack of provenance makes it so. Then again, folks should check out this page from Wildwinds … seems to be a popular coin to fake … we should also probably mention that when the Shopping Channel has sold ancient coins in the past, it has usually been rather common items (e.g. this from their website) which are incredibly overpriced.


The ‘Other’ Elgin Disputes

There’s not much ClassCon in this one, other than the connection to the guy who did that thing with those marbles — but there’s some CanCon, and so we’ll jump at the opportunity to mix Canadian history with Classical, no matter how tenuous the link. In any event, the guy at the centre of this one (more or less) is the eighth Earl of Elgin (son of Parthenon guy), who was one of the governors of Canada prior to Confederation and — interestingly, in this time when folks are struggling for democracy — was instrumental in bringing responsible government to Canada in the wake of our own little period of rebellion. Over the past couple of years, he too has been involved in a couple of ‘return’ disputes, most recently one which he isn’t really directly involved in.  Here’s the story from the Herald:

IT sometimes seems that anything linked to the Elgin dynasty and made of marble is bound to become shrouded in controversy.

The long-running row between London and Athens is rumbling on over the sculptures known as the Parthenon Marbles, which were taken from the Acropolis.

Now a fresh dispute has emerged over a pair of marble busts of the 8th Earl of Elgin and his wife, created in Scotland in 1941 and donated to Canada.

The 11th Earl, whose family seat is Broomhall House, near Dunfermline, has been dragged into the row between a Canadian hotel and the country’s national gallery over where the busts should be displayed.

At stake are two busts, one of Sir James Bruce, the 8th Earl of Elgin, a Scot who became Canada’s first governor-general in 1847 and was a pivotal player in establishing a responsible government in the country. The other is of his wife Lady Mary Lambton, a daughter of the 1st Earl of Durham.

The sculptures, commissioned by directors of Standard Life, were shipped to the Lord Elgin Hotel in Ottawa as a gift to Canada by the 10th Earl of Elgin when he heard in 1939 that a hotel was to be built and named in honour of his grandfather.

In July 1941, the busts went on display in the lobby of the hotel after an unveiling by the then prime minister, Mackenzie King.

However, in 2003 the hotel allowed the sculptures to be sent to Rideau Hall, the official residence in Ottawa of both the Canadian monarch and the governor general of Canada, for a historical celebration of Sir James Bruce organised by Library and Archives Canada.

The busts were never returned and for eight years managers of the hotel have had requests for their return rebuffed.

A Rideau Hall spokeswoman said the Elgin busts were only ever “on loan” to the hotel. She said the sculptures had been donated to the Government of Canada and were only to remain on display at the hotel for an “indefinite amount of time”.

The present Lord Elgin, Andrew Bruce, 86, says he understands there was an agreement that the busts would be returned to the hotel after the exhibition.

He said: “The argument seems to lie with the director of the National Gallery [of Canada] at the time.

“There has been a family relationship ever since the hotel was built and that seems to me to be vital.”

A letter at the time of the loan, from Pierre Théberge, former director of the National Gallery of Canada, to Don Blakslee, the then hotel manager talked of the arrangement.

It said: “Once the exhibition is closed the loans officer will co-ordinate the return of the sculptures to the Lord Elgin Hotel.”

However, reports from 1941 about the donation of the busts quoted Mackenzie King as saying: “Acting upon Lord Elgin’s suggestion, the Government has had great pleasure in loaning to the management of the hotel for an indefinite time these works of art.”

As with the London-Athens dispute, it seems this latest Elgin marble row still has some way to go.

Ironic, I guess that busts of an Elgin are in dispute … but even before this one, there was another ‘return’ situation between Canada and the Elgins over what are colloquially known as ‘Elgin’s Rocks’. Some excerpts from the Ottawa Citizen from a couple of years ago:

The marble sculptures were removed in the early 19th century from the Acropolis in Athens by the 7th Earl of Elgin. The rocks were thrown at the 8th Earl of Elgin, governor general to Canada, in 1849 by an English-speaking mob in Montreal angry over a bill compensating Quebecers involved in the rebellions of 1837-38.

In Montreal, Lady Elgin kept some of the rocks heaved at her husband. These rather bizarre souvenirs have remained with the family at its ancestral castle in Broomhall, Scotland, for the past century. Come next Friday, the 11th Earl of Elgin, the great-grandson of the former governor general, will be in Ottawa for a ceremony at Library and Archives Canada to officially turn over the rocks — and considerable other loot from his vice-regal ancestor — to the people of Canada.

The artifacts number in the hundreds. Full details about the Elgin artifacts are to be released next week, but some information has already leaked out. Stacks of documents include one from 1852 titled “Royal Seal and Warrant Granting Full Powers to Lord Elgin to Negotiate with the United States.”

There are watercolours painted by Lady Elgin, a pair of moccasins decorated with velvet, ribbon and pearls, and the Cree wooden snowshoes Lord Elgin personally used to tramp five kilometres to work from his home in the Monklands area of Montreal.

Some of the objects are being donated by the current Lord and Lady Elgin and others are being purchased from them. Funds were raised largely through an organization called Alberta Friends of Elgin, one of many efforts launched by Jennifer Considine, a Calgary-based energy analyst, to foster Scottish-Canadian relations.

The Elgin treasures will be housed at Library and Archives and at the Canadian Museum of Civilization. Their arrival comes just two months after the National Gallery of Canada opened a major exhibition of newly acquired artworks and artifacts from the descendants of another 19th century governor general, Lord Dalhousie.

The pomp associated with the visit of Lord and Lady Elgin next week is in sharp contrast to 1849, when the then Lord Elgin planned to visit Ottawa — it was called Bytown in those days — to scout out the rowdy lumbering town as a potential capital for Canada.

The mayor of Bytown, Robert Hervey, was among the many Tories in Canada those days who hated the Rebellion Losses Bill signed by Lord Elgin because the legislation compensated some Quebec rebels. The rival Reformists supported the bill. The two sides ended up in a street fight in the Byward Market. Thirty people were injured and one man was shot dead in what later came to be called the Stony Monday Riot of Sept. 17, 1849.

Two days later, the two sides planned to face off again on Sapper’s Bridge, across the Rideau Canal, near what is now Parliament Hill. Cannons, muskets and pistols were hauled out. But before much harm was done, the army arrived and tensions eased.

As for Lord Elgin, he delayed his visit until July 1853 and received a warm reception. Lord Elgin’s dream of moving the capital to the city rechristened Ottawa was realized in 1857.

Lord Elgin was perhaps best known as a champion of “responsible government” for Canada, which then included just Ontario and Quebec. Because of his efforts, Canada started taking the baby steps that allowed it to become more independent from Britain.

This fact was noted by the current Lord Elgin when he participated in a debate in the House of Lords concerning the patriation of the Canadian constitution two decades ago. With the enthusiastic support of the current Lord Elgin, Canada was granted the power in 1982 by the British Parliament to amend its own constitution.

The warm reception expected for the Elgins next week is also in sharp contrast to the treatment most recently accorded the memory of Lord Durham, father of the landscape-painting Lady Elgin. Lord Durham, a British emissary to Canada, wrote a report in 1839 suggesting that French-Canadians be assimilated.

Lord Durham remains so controversial that last November, the National Capital Commission felt compelled to remove an illustration of his lordship from an exhibit on Sparks Street marking the 150th anniversary of Ottawa becoming the capital.

Some of the Elgin artifacts, including the infamous rocks, being unveiled Friday were part of a small exhibition mounted in 2003 at Rideau Hall. Adrienne Clarkson, governor general at the time, noted then how much the current Lord Elgin resembles his famous ancestor.

“Obviously, the genes are very strong in the Elgin family,” Ms. Clarkson said while opening the exhibition.

The surname of the Elgin family is Bruce, as in Robert the Bruce, King of Scotland.

“The Bruce family is a family truly writ in history,” Ms. Clarkson said in 2003. “And a family that is, happily, part of our history. It is very valuable for us to know this and to hold on to it. We must know every bit of our history — everything that has happened to us as a country, everbody who has contributed to it.”

That even includes, apparently, rocks thrown at members of the Bruce family.

Lord Elgin rock show coming to capital region | Citizen

There’s a nice little YouTube short about the whole incident as well (with photos of the ‘rocks’):

… and in case you’re in the Ottawa area:

Canada’s main history museum has unveiled a new exhibit casting the country’s Confederation story in a fresh light emphasizing the tensions that threatened to pull British North America apart in the years leading up to 1867’s unification project.

It’s a rewriting of the narrative of the country’s birth, says Canadian Museum of Civilization president Victor Rabinovitch, that doesn’t follow “the usual line about how peaceful everything was up here.”

Among the highlighted events are the 1837 rebellions in the present-day Quebec and Ontario. A scene is recreated from Montgomery Tavern in the future Toronto, where rebels under the leadership of William Lyon Mackenzie — grandfather of 20th-century Liberal prime minister William Lyon Mackenzie King — plotted their uprising against the British government-appointed oligarchs who ran Upper Canada at the time.

Visitors to the tavern scene “find themselves amidst the conspiring rebels,” the museum states, just moments before they embark on their ill-fated attack — “armed with muskets, pitchforks and staves” — aimed at overthrowing the colony’s ruling elite.

The new display is a linchpin component of the museum’s Canada Hall, a circuitous tour through the country’s past that Rabinovitch describes as “the most visited history installation in all of Canada.”

More than 500,000 people visit the museum’s Canada Hall every year.

The new exhibit also recounts the post-rebellion unrest that led to the burning of the colonial legislature in Quebec in 1849.

Among the artifacts on display are two chunks of stone — sometimes jokingly referred to as “Lord Elgin’s rocks” — that were hurled at the then-governor general during the rioting that accompanied the burning of Parliament.

The attack followed a controversial decision by lawmakers to compensate Quebec rebels who suffered hardships following the 1837 uprising.

… we now resume our regular programming …

Fiddling While Libya Burns?

Muammar Qaddafi, the Libyan chief of state, at...

Image via Wikipedia

Watching the events in Libya this week, it’s kind of interesting how journalists et al seemed to be searching for an appropriate ‘crazy imperator’ label to fit Qaddafi with. Shortly after his strange speech on Tuesday, Arab News picked the obvious:

Watching his TV speech to the Libyan people and the world on Tuesday night, no one could accuse Muammar Qaddafi of mere delusion. This was a bravura performance of insanity — and evil insanity at that. This was Qaddafi as the Roman Emperor Caligula or the Fatimid Caliph Hakim — even Adolf Hitler or Pol Pot.

At about the same time, Press TV (out of Iran … hmmmm) took the ‘other’ obvious choice:

The similarities between the recent actions of the Libyan dictator with Nero in the Great Fire of Rome suggest that the Libyan dictator is suffering from Caesar madness.

Nero Claudius Caesar, the fifth emperor of ancient Rome, burned down the city of Rome in the year 64 AD out of sheer madness; he finally committed suicide in the year 68 AD.

Currently, the people of Libya are faced with a complicated figure like Colonel Muammar Gaddafi who has brutally bombed public places and killed hundreds of his own countrymen.

Today, we read one of his own generals making the comparison a bit more ‘official’ in the National:

Colonel Muammar Qaddafi will resort to any means to remain in power, including the destruction of his own country, a general who defected from the Libyan army said Friday.

“Muammar Qaddafi is like Nero, who burnt down Rome. He will burn down his own country,” Major Gen Suleiman Mahmoud said in this opposition-held eastern city, where preparations were underway for retaliatory strikes by pro-regime forces as well as a possible march on the capital to unseat the Libyan leader.

The dire warning came as Col Qaddafi appeared late Friday in central Tripoli to rally supporters. Wearing a fur cap and sunglasses and speaking from the ramparts of the Red Castle, a historic fort overlooking Green Square, he told an estimated thousand people that they would “fight and win” in their defence of the country. He also said that, if necessary, weapons depots would be thrown open to arm his people for battle.

This afternoon (I think) Qaddafi made a speech and the Guardian’s ‘live’ news blog made this comment at one point:

There are no images of Gaddafi, just his disembodied voice on Al-Jazeera, adding to the surreal nature of the occasion. While his regime crumbles, he’s talking about kids taking pills. It really is like Nero fiddling while Rome burns.

Finally, the Sunday Times (Sri Lanka) seals it with a headline which doesn’t even have a Roman reference in the body of the editorial:

… which pretty much makes it official, I guess … Qaddafi is Nero … Libya is burning … but unlike Nero, I suspect his final words will be something like qualis carnifex pereo

Classical Myth Course Thriving at UW-Madison

A very nice account:

Each spring, for 30 years, classics professor Barry Powell led nearly 500 UW-Madison students in Classical Myth, considered a backbone course for the humanities on campus. So his views on the topic might surprise some former students.

“There’s no such thing as classical myth,” says Powell. “It really doesn’t exist.”

Unlike Judeo-Christian scriptures, the nebulous canon of Greek (and, later, Roman) myth represents contradictory stories with varied ages and origins. To Powell, the course simply represents a selection of material and a way of presenting it.

During the last 80 years, however, the course and its leaders have left an indelible mark on UW-Madison and universities around the world.

In Powell’s words, from his best-selling textbook: “Only when we see how myth changes over time, yet somehow remains the same, can we grasp its essence.”

Name a large lecture space on campus — Ag Hall, even the Stock Pavilion — and chances are that the course once met there. Though the loss of one teaching assistant reduced the available discussion sections to a mere 15, the department added a summer session to meet the still-heavy demand.

On a Tuesday morning, assistant professor Jeff Beneker stands in front of the lecture screen on Bascom Hall’s second floor. Only a few of the 478 seats — wooden chairs covered with decades of seat-back graffiti — remain, mostly mid-row; students line the back wall.

At 9:55, the lights dim. The first lines of Hesiod’s “Theogony,” or genealogy of the gods, appear.

“It’s an instructional text, providing important information when we’re trying to learn how the gods are related,” says Beneker. “But as students of Greek culture, we’re also interested in the literary aspects of the poem.”

With its classical trim and raised stage, the room suits both the topic and Beneker’s performance. The Greek names come alive as he turns unfamiliar words into familiar sounds. Instead of using a pointer, he reaches toward the illuminated text for emphasis, as if grasping each word one at a time.

In 15 minutes, Beneker touches on Greek language, literature, history, geography, spirituality, performance practice, linguistics, criticism and philosophy. No wonder: His syllabus covers a period of more than 1,300 years, forming the roots of Western civilization.

Like most of his students, Beneker didn’t intend to be a classicist. Recalling his days as an engineering student, he can relate to students with packed schedules and little exposure to the humanities.

“We don’t want to ‘convert’ them,” he says. “But while they’re here at UW, we can get them involved and bring them into the oldest humanities tradition. I hope that makes them better scientists, giving them a broader view of humanity and what it means to be a person — in the ancient world and in the modern world.”

“The ancient Greeks invented these stories as a reflection of themselves and their society,” adds associate professor William Aylward, who teaches the class every other spring. “They mean so much to different people. They continue to be popular; they continue to resound. Other topics don’t have this enduring value. That’s what makes it so fun to teach.”

Students agree. Some take the course to satisfy a literature requirement; others enjoy the humorous, often bawdy stories. Tales of heroes, war, sex and scandals elicit just as much interest today as they did in the ancient world.

“It doesn’t take a lot for me to draw students into the stories,” says Jeannie Nguyen, a graduate student who has twice served as Beneker’s teaching assistant. “I think it’s because they’re presented as stories, not facts, open for their own interpretation and opinions on it. Everybody likes to give their own opinions.”

Remarkably, both the material and the presentation of Classical Myth, or Classics 370, still resemble the course’s first incarnation in many ways. Mirroring the transmission of the myths themselves, the lectures and teaching techniques have passed from professor to professor in a true oral tradition.

Walter “Ray” Agard arrived on campus alongside Alexander Meiklejohn in 1927. Agard began in Meiklejohn’s Experimental College before focusing on the classics.

In the 1930s, the department consisted of Latin, Greek and Sanskrit professors, accustomed to teaching literature in its original language. Building on the Great Books studies then in vogue, Agard’s course on myth in translation revolutionized the field.

“Many of my colleagues in other places thought that it was a degradation, practically, to offer courses as superficial as that to people who didn’t study the language at all,” said Agard in a 1972 interview.

At a time when public outreach was considered scholarly research, Agard’s work reached a popular audience of thousands.

“He’s a pivotal figure, making the transition from just teaching Greek and Latin to teaching the classics in translation and getting it out to the public,” says Laura McClure, professor and chair of classics. “It was innovative to teach classics without knowing Greek and Latin. It was only in the ‘30s and ‘40s that the idea became widespread. That gave us the foundation to develop these courses here that we still teach today.”

Upon completing his Ph.D. in 1948, Herbert Howe picked up seamlessly from Agard. Powell describes himself as Howe’s understudy, auditing the course several times and using Howe’s own lecture notes before taking over in 1975.

McClure, who taught the class in rotation with Powell during the 1990s, described her experience the same way.

“I was an understudy for the first year,” she says. “I made tapes of Barry giving the lectures; his idea was that I would ‘imbibe’ the Powell technique, just as he imbibed it from Howe.”

The Powell, Howe and Agard techniques reached their apex with Powell’s textbook “Classical Myth.” Nearing its seventh edition, the book combines a variety of ancient texts with expository materials, evocative images and modern perspectives on everything from “Star Wars” to Seamus Heaney.

“Any book or set of readings is just an interface between the content and the students,” says Aylward, who team-taught the course with Powell in 2006. “This particular book is a phenomenon.”

A true departmental collaboration, the book draws most heavily on Howe’s work. Aylward became co-editor after the fourth edition, contributing material on Roman civilization and Troy. Still, Howe’s own translations form the centerpiece.

“He did a great job of translating the Greek and Latin,” says Powell. “They’re very modern, kind of hip. The book really follows Herb’s lectures. It reserves Herb’s lucid and humorous presentation, which is why it’s been such a success.”

When Powell began teaching in the 1970s, few universities offered courses on myth. Thanks to his engaging text, Ohio State now packs 600 students into a lecture hall each trimester. Universities in Australia, New Zealand and even Taiwan have helped make the book one of the best-selling volumes on the ancient world.

In 1972, Agard described the three hallmarks of good teaching: competence and growth in one’s subject, perspective in organizing material and, “most important of all, having and showing enthusiasm for your material and for your students.”

This is the course’s true legacy. In nearly 80 years, only six people have taught the course. When Howe passed away last year at age 98, his obituary noted that he had taught approximately 26,000 students: “more, he believed, than any other faculty member in the history of UW-Madison.”

“The most passionate, enthusiastic, eccentric professors that I know are from the classics department,” says senior Annabelle Merg. “There’s something about the interconnectedness of classical mythology — oral traditions changing and the integration of surrounding cultures — that makes it impossible for the professors to talk in a straight line. The result is this thoroughly entertaining lecture that leaves you stunned and desperate for more.”

“I knew it was time to retire when a student told me, ‘I love this class; I’m crazy about it, and it’s just like my mother said!’” says Powell, with a laugh. “I realized I’d taught a whole generation.”

What John Gruber-Miller Is Up To …

From the Daily Review Atlas:

John Gruber-Miller, professor of classics at Cornell College, will deliver Monmouth College’s 27th annual Bernice L. Fox Classics Lecture on Feb. 28 at 7:30 p.m. in the Wells Theater.

Titled “Peeking into a Periegete’s Mind: Probing Pausanias’s ‘Description of Greece,’” the lecture is free and open to the public.

“The Roman travel writer Pausanias is our most important ancient source for the art and archaeology of ancient Greece,” said Gruber-Miller. “He wrote his ‘Description of Greece’ during the second century CE when the great renaissance of Greek literature and culture known as the Second Sophistic was in full bloom.”

Over the past two summers, Gruber-Miller and two undergraduate researchers have been probing Pausanias’s text, attempting to uncover the truth of what he writes. His illustrated Fox Lecture presentation will be divided into three parts: Pausanias’s research topics/questions, his methods for reaching answers and the development of his authority.

“At the same time, we will ask our own questions,” said Gruber-Miller. “Why should we read the travel writings of a Roman in Greek lands? What image and identity does Greece hold in our imagination? What can we learn about doing research today from an ancient writer?”

At Cornell, Gruber-Miller teaches a range of courses in classics, Greek and Latin and is the adviser for the college’s interdisciplinary classical studies program. He was the editor for “When Dead Tongues Speak: Teaching Beginning Greek and Latin,” which was published in 2006. Gruber-Miller received his bachelor’s degree from Xavier University and his master’s degree and Ph.D. from Ohio State University.

Established in 1985, the lecture honors the late Bernice L. Fox, who taught classics at Monmouth from 1947 until 1981. The goal of the series is to illustrate the continuing importance of classical studies in the modern world and the intersection of the classics with other disciplines in the liberal arts.


The Repatriation Issue: Turkey Talks Tough

This is a rather interesting development … we’ll have to keep our eye on this to see where it goes:

Turkey’s culture minister on Thursday demanded Germany return an ancient sphinx uncovered from a German archeological dig nearly a century ago or it would revoke permits for other excavations.

Ertugrul Gunay told the Tagesspiegel daily in an interview that German authorities had until the start of the digging season in June to hand back the priceless artefact, thought to date from around 1400 BC.

The sphinx, dug up from the ancient city of Hattusha, the capital of the Hittite empire, in the early part of the 20th century, was taken to Germany for restoration but now sits in a Berlin museum, much to Turkey’s annoyance.

“If there is no commitment (to return the sphinx) by the beginning of the digging season, I am firmly determined to cancel the excavation licence for Hattusha,” said the minister.

Gunay also threatened several other German archaeological digs around the country, saying the permits could go to Turkish scientists.

“Turkey has new universities, new archaeological institutes as well as keen and successful archaeologists. If we do not see the hoped-for cooperation in this area, we would not hesitate to transfer the digs to our own universities.”

Germany is also embroiled in a row with Egypt, which has demanded the return of the 3,400-year-old bust of fabled beauty Nefertiti which currently has pride of place in the Neues (New) Museum in Berlin.

Cairo began to demand the restitution of the Pharaonic-era statue back in the 1930s, but successive German governments have insisted the piece was bought legally and that there are documents to prove it.

The foreign ministry in Berlin told AFP that experts from Germany and Turkey would hold talks in the first half of the year to determine the future of the sphinx.

As I recall, they were making similar demands a couple of years ago, but I can’t find any live links of that one  … the Wikipedia article on Hattusa says the one sphinx (of a pair) stayed in Germany as part of the usual ‘division of artifacts’ … not specifically Classical, all this, of course, but it likely will impact a number of digs if it isn’t resolved.





This Day in Ancient History: ante diem vi kalendas martias

Pico della Mirandola

Image via Wikipedia

ante diem vi kalendas martias

  • Regifugium — a festival which didn’t really happen on “February 24″ but actually six days before the kalends of March, which was usually during a period of intercalation. Roman writers suggested this festival was a celebration of the expulsion of the Tarquins, although modern scholars have their doubts. Whatever the case, on this day the Rex Sacrorum would offer some sort of sacrifice in the Comitium and then run away as fast as he could …
  • 259 A.D. — martyrdom of Montanus and several companions at Carthage
  • 303 A.D. — edict of Galerius officially promoting the persecution of Christians (?)
  • 304 A.D. — martyrdom of Sergius in Cappadocia
  • 1463 — birth of Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (usually described as a “Neoplatonist”)
  • 1999 — death of David Daube (author of Civil Disobedience in Antiquity, among numerous other works)

This Day in Ancient History: ante diem viii kalendas martias

Rome, Ara Pacis museum: cast of a portrait of ...

Image via Wikipedia

ante diem viii kalendas martias

  • Parentalia probably comes to and end with the festival of Caristia, which was a sort of ‘kiss and make up’ festival. The idea was that people had made peace with their dead, so now it was right to bring to an end any quarrels they were having with living members of their family. There was usually a big family reunion type banquet and worship was given to the Lares.
  • 4 A.D. — death of hoped-for-successor-to-Augustus Gaius Caesar (either February 21 or 22) in Limyra
  • c. 1st century A.D. — martyrdom of Aristion, place disputed
  • 1756 — birth of Gilbert Wakefield (Classicist)

Jefferson’s Books

Washington University in St. Louis

Image via Wikipedia

As long as we’re talking about Greek (see next post) we might as well mention an item from Washington University in St Louis which  mentions the recent identification of a number of books which once belonged to Thomas Jefferson. Some excerpts:

The Thomas Jefferson Foundation and Washington University in St. Louis announced the discovery by Monticello scholars that a collection of books, long held in the libraries at Washington University in St. Louis, originally were part of Thomas Jefferson’s personal library.

These books, held at the university’s libraries for 131 years, have been confirmed by Monticello scholars as having belonged to Thomas Jefferson himself. They are part of the university’s rare books collection, and were not identified by the books’ donor in 1880 as a part of Jefferson’s personal collection.

Monticello scholars identified several notable books among the 28 titles and 74 volumes, including:

* Aristotle’s Politica, which was likely one of the last books Jefferson read before his death on July 4, 1826.
* Architecture books used by Jefferson to design the University of Virginia, which, like Monticello, is recognized by the United Nations as a World Heritage Site. Two of these volumes, Freart de Chambray’s Parallele de l’architecture antique avec la moderne and Andrea Palladio’s Architecture de Palladio, contenant les cinq ordres d’architecture contain a few notes and calculations made by Jefferson.
* A small scrap of paper with Greek notes in Jefferson’s hand tucked in a volume of Plutarch’s Lives.

The best part is that they have a high res photo of that small scrap of paper:

WUStL photo


They have ‘posed’ the scrap on the page of Plutarch’s Lives which compares Marcellus and Pelopidas, but I don’t think what is written thereon has to do with them. Seems to be an awful lot of ‘corrections’ being listed and I can’t figure out that word before ‘bibliothekes’ …

Greek Turns Up in the Oddest Places!

Erstwhile Classics prof Ken Mayer sent along an interesting item last week … it’s a photo of a can of Kuang Chuan Mountain Coffee (the company is from Taiwan) and the inverted image shows that there’s some sort of Greek manuscript lurking on the label:

photo by Ken Mayer (with permission)

What’s somewhat infuriating about this is that the company doesn’t appear to have an (English) web presence where one could research the label. Folks who want to try their hand at figuring out the text can check out largers sizes at Flickr:Kuang Chuan Mountain Coffee with Byzantine Greek manuscript. Feel free to provide glosses, etc. in the comments.


UPDATE (early the next morning): G. Dachris and Neils Grotum write in to identify the passage as the beginning of Thucydides Book 5 … (thanks!)

Aurora Borealis Tiberii

Every now and then, it turns out the journalists get it right. An excerpt from an item in the Telegraph last week:

Solar winds are plumes of electrically charged particles spewed out by the Sun that occasionally hit Earth. The planet’s protective magnetic field pushes these particles to the poles, where they react with oxygen and nitrogen atoms in the atmosphere to produce light. These eerily beautiful curtains of light are the aurora borealis and australis (or Northern and Southern Lights).

Sometimes a particularly violent solar blast known as a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) means the auroras are visible at lower latitudes. In AD37, according to the historian Seneca, the Emperor Tiberius saw a vivid red light in the sky and dispatched battalions to the seaport at Ostia, “in the belief that it was burning”. In London in 1839, fire brigades rushed north to put out a conflagration that turned out to be an aurora. The same thing happened in January 1938, when the Associated Press reported that a “ruddy glow led many to think half the city was ablaze”.

Now when I saw the mention of “the historian Seneca”, my alarm bells went off, but thanks to amicus noster John McMahon (who pointed me in the right direction and so gets the traditional tip o’ the pileus), it turns out the source for this actually is Seneca’s Quaestiones Naturales. Here’s the relevant bit via the Latin Library (1.15.5):

Inter haec licet ponas et quod frequenter in historiis legimus caelum ardere uisum, cuius nonnumquam tam sublimis ardor est, ut inter sidera ipsa uideatur, nonnumquam tam humilis, ut speciem longinqui incendii praebeat. Sub Tiberio Caesare cohortes in auxilium Ostiensis coloniae cucurrerunt tamquam conflagrantis, cum caeli ardor fuisset per magnam partem noctis parum lucidus, <ut> crassi fumidique ignis.

FWIW, plenty of news outlets (e.g. the Huffington Post) last week were suggesting we might be able to see the Northern Lights much further south due to solar flare activity, but I didn’t see any such thing …

Do You Own More Than One Prius?

A Toyota press release, via the fine folks at Engadget:

Toyota Motor Sales (TMS), USA, Inc. today announced that the general public has selected ‘Prii’ as the preferred plural term for Prius.

The Prius Goes Plural voting campaign was launched on January 10 at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit and challenged the public to help the automaker determine the plural nomenclature of Prius. The campaign coincided with the world premiere of the Toyota Prius family of vehicles. With 25 percent of the votes, Prii becomes the word not only endorsed by the public who chose it, but also as the term recognized by Toyota. As such, has updated its entry for the word ‘Prius’ to reflect this.

Toyota unveiled the winning word at the Chicago Auto Show this morning. Jay Schwartz, head of content for, was on hand to inform the public that, as the plural of Prius has now been determined, the term ‘Prii’ will be reflected in

After the more than 1.8 million votes were cast during the course of the six-week campaign, Prii beat out its four competitors: Prius, Priuses, Prium and Prien. Prius came in at a close second with 24 percent of the votes. A video recap of the campaign and winning word celebration can be viewed at

“Community has always been a big part of the Prius brand, so it was only fitting that we invite the online communities to participate in the plural discussion,” said Colin Morisako, advertising manager for Toyota. “The people have spoken-Prii will be the accepted term used to describe multiple Prius vehicles going forward.”

I think the Engadget folks got it right … we are looking on admonishingly. They seem to be thinking Prius is a second declension masculine noun like dominus which has a stem ‘pri’  — which doesn’t make sense — or it’s like filius and has a stem ‘pr’ — which also doesn’t make sense. We probably should point out that the Latin word prius is actually an adverb (meaning ‘before’) which can’t be pluralized by dropping the -us and adding an -i.

… I’m glad I drive a Nissan (a Rogue, of course) …

Footprints in the … Well, Lots of Stuff

One of the reasons I like having days off — it’s ‘Family Day’ here in Ontario (which curiously matches up with President’s Day in the U.S.) — is that it allows me time to give items the time they deserve and also to catch up on things which I’ve been putting off posting for various reasons. In this post’s case, we get to catch up on a pile of items which have a common theme of ‘footprints from the ancient world’.  Back in 2007, we had our first post about footprints, when a Roman soldier’s sandal impression was found during excavations at Sussita. A couple of years later (in October of 2009), I never got around to blogging about some artisans’ footprints which turned up when archaeologists were removing the Lod Mosaic (now on exhibit at the Met) from its footings. Here’s the coverage from Arutz Sheva at the time:

The ancient footprints of the artisans who built a stunning 1,700-year-old mosaic floor in Lod were discovered recently when conservators from the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) were in the process of detaching the huge work of art from the ground.

As the conservation experts worked on the plaster bedding to be done before detaching the mosaic, they were surprised to notice there were ancient foot and sandal prints beneath it. Clearly, the builders that had worked on the floor sometimes wore their sandals, and sometimes worked in their bare feet.

“It’s exciting. This is the first time I have ever encountered personal evidence such as this under a mosaic,” said Jacques Neguer, head of the IAA Art Conservation Branch, who referred to it as “a real archaeological gem that is extraordinarily well-preserved.” When removing a section of mosaic, it is customary to clean its bedding, and that way study the material from which it is made, and the construction stages, Neguer explained. “We look for drawings and sketches that the artists made in the plaster and marked where each of the tesserae will be placed.”

Neguer said this is also what happened with the Lod mosaic. “Beneath a piece on which vine leaves are depicted, we discovered that the mosaic’s builders incised lines that indicate where the tesserae should be set, and afterwards, while cleaning the layer, we found the imprints of the feet and sandals, sizes 34, 37, 42 and 44.” At least one imprint of a sole resembled a modern sandal, he added. Based on the concentration of foot and sandal prints, “it seems that the group of builders tamped the mortar in place with their feet.”

The mosaic is one of the largest and most magnificent ever seen in Israel, but although it was discovered in 1996, it was covered over again when no resources could be found for its conservation. Thirteen years later, the IAA received a contribution from the Leon Levy Foundation specifically earmarked for the preservation and development of the Lod site. The mosaic was re-excavated, exhibited to the public, and then conservators began the delicate process of removing it from the area for treatment in the IAA conservation laboratories in Jerusalem.

Measuring approximately 180 square meters, the mosaic is composed of colorful carpets that depict in exquisite detail mammals, birds, fish, floral species and sailing and merchant vessels that were in use at the time. It is believed that the mosaic floor was part of a villa that belonged to a wealthy man who lived during the Roman period.

The site, which is located in the eastern section of Lod, next to the entrance at Ginnaton Junction, is intended to become a springboard for tourism to the city. It is situated between HeHalutz and Struma Streets, which lead to the open air market and to the city’s center.

“It is fascinating to discover a 1,700 year old personal mark of people who are actually like us, who worked right here on the same mosaic,” Neguer remarked. “We feel the continuity of generations here.”

… we might as well include a couple of photos from there as well:

Niki Davidov (IAA) via Arutz Sheva

Niki Davidov (IAA) via Arutz Sheva

See also:

In November of 2010, we did mention a brief item about a Roman legionary bath house being discovered in Jerusalem. Unfortunately, that was one of those situations where I posted the first instance of what was found … subsequent coverage included information about a dog’s footprint being found in one of the tiles at the site. An excerpt from the IAA’s official release:

Dr. Sion adds, “Another interesting discovery that caused excitement during the excavation is the paw print of a dog that probably belonged to one of the soldiers. The paw print was impressed on the symbol of the legion on one of the roof tiles and it could have happened accidentally or have been intended as a joke”.

… and here’s a photo from the site:

IAA photo

(I think I need to tip my pileus to Dorothy King on this one … I think she sent it to me and I filed it away)

At some point after that, I came across an item at the BBC’s History of the World site, which included a brief item on a similar canine footprint in a terracotta tile now housed in the Hunterian Museum. Here’s the photo just for comparative purposes:

BBC/Hunterian Museum photo

… which brings us to our most recent example, a child’s footprints found near an outpost of that ubiquitous Ninth Legion, which keeps coming up . Some excerpts from Sky News‘ coverage:

Archaeologists made the remarkable discovery while excavating a muddy area of a former Roman settlement on the A1 near Leeming.

Helen Maclean of archaeology firm AECOM described the find as very rare.

“I’m not aware of many other footprints being found, everybody was quite amazed by it,” she said.

Photographs show a right footprint clearly visible in soft ground followed by two left prints – suggesting that the boy or girl who made them was hopping or skipping.

The perfectly-preserved footprints were uncovered in 2010 during a dig at Healam Bridge, but photographs have only now been released after Sky News heard of their existence.

The site was excavated as part of a £318m Highways Agency scheme to upgrade part of the A1 to a three-lane motorway.

The area where the child had been playing was close to a stream where archaeologists believe the Romans struggled to keep their feet dry.

Experts found evidence of repeated attempts to make the area less muddy, with stones and plant material spread on the soft ground.

“It was quite close to where the stream probably ran”, said Ms Maclean.

“The child was probably running through the mud, jumping in puddles or possibly just trying to avoid getting its feet wet.”

The dig was close to an imperial fort which served as a frontier outpost for the famous Ninth Legion which took part in the Roman invasion of Britain in AD43.


Archaeologists were unable to preserve the footprints and the photographs are the only evidence that remains of the child’s brief skip through the Yorkshire mud.

Northern Archaeological Associates via Sky News

There … I hope I’ve made some sort of impression for you …

UPDATE (a few minutes later): I note that Heather Pringle is blogging footprints too: What’s in a Footprint?

Whither Legio IX Hispana?

As reviews of The Eagle seem to be tapering off (see the ‘Sword and Sandal’ section in our footer, e.g.) the Daily Mail comes out with a bit of hype for an upcoming television program on the ‘mysterious’ disappearance of the Roman legion portrayed in that movie (and, fwiw, also in Centurion). Tip o’ the pileus to Dorothy King for sending this one along:

For centuries, historians have puzzled over the disappearance of a legion of 5,000 battle-hardened Roman soldiers in northern Britain around 108 AD.

The ancient riddle, which has captivated storytellers, has just been dramatised by Hollywood in The Eagle, starring Channing Tatum and Jamie Bell.

Now, experts have revealed that the children’s book on which the film is based is more fact than fiction.

After helping to quell Queen Boadicea’s rebellion, and later crushing Caledonian tribes at the battle of Mons Graupius in Scotland in 83 AD, nothing more is recorded of the legendary Ninth Legion.

Historians were left baffled how thousands of heavy infantry soldiers could simply disappear. They suggested that the most likely explanations were that the legion disbanded and its members joined other units, or it was deployed to an eastern part of the empire.

Meanwhile, the myth-making continued. In 1954, children’s author Rosemary Sutcliff published The Eagle Of The Ninth, an adventure novel in which the heroic legion was massacred by Pict hordes in hostile mountainous terrain.

Now a group of experts say the elite infantry force was indeed defeated by a band of ‘barbarians’ in a military catastrophe that shamed the empire, prompting a conspiracy of silence.

The dramatic new evidence hinges on a single gravestone tribute and was brought to light by historian and film-maker Phil Hirst, whose documentary Rome’s Lost Legion will be screened next month.

‘The battle of Mons Graupius was thought to have marked the end of any serious threat to imperial might,’ he said. ‘But the discovery of a tombstone of a centurion stationed at the Northumbrian fort of Vindolanda shows the Romans were under attack from the north 20 years later.’

Historian Neil Faulkner, of Channel 4’s Time Team, said: ‘It is likely the insurgents formed a confederation of tribes. So what the Romans could have been facing was a rising of pretty well the whole of the north of Britain.’

Rome’s reaction after the Ninth’s disappearance lends weight to the theory. Reinforcements were drafted in to Britain to fight a major war at the beginning of Emperor Hadrian’s reign around 117 AD and the construction of Hadrian’s Wall was ordered.

Mr Hirst said: ‘The loss of the Ninth may have led Hadrian to realise that the total conquest of Britain was unachievable and a dividing wall needed to be built separating occupied territory from the barbarian hordes.’

Mr Faulkner added: ‘My guess is that the Ninth Legion was destroyed in a carefully executed ambush by northern tribes.’

Rome’s Lost Legion is on the History Channel on March 18. The Eagle opens in UK cinemas on March 25.

As often, there’s quite a bit of misinformation going on in this one, and it’s pretty clear that scholarship since Sutcliff’s novel came out (yes … a novel; I’ve never understood why historical fiction is often taken as the starting point for historical fact) back in the 1950s is being glossed over. Perhaps most importantly, the centurion’s tombstone thing isn’t a new discovery, if it’s the one I’m thinking of, namely the one which A.R. Birley published as “A New Tombstone from Vindolanda”, Britannia 29 (1998), pp. 299-306. The tombstone itself is broken and much has to be ‘filled in':

I D[
2 T ? ANN[

Out of this, however, it is speculated (based on what would fit in the missing spaces and other features which you can track down Birley’s article for) that we might be dealing with a centurion named Titus Annius Rufus who was a member of the cohors Tungrorum — Birley speculates he may have been in command thereof, postulating the existence of an abbreviation of praepositus at the end of line three. Jumping to line six, it is clear our Annius died in battle (interfectus), and Birley speculates that what followed was an indication of who the enemy was (i.e. a barbaris or ab hostibus). On the basis that he died in a war against some Britanni at the time Hadrian came to the throne, the stone is assigned a date of 117 or thereabouts (the argument is much more detailed than that, but is still rather speculative).

That said, I really have no idea whether this is the stone which our ‘historian and film maker’ will be highlighting in his television program, but I can’t think of anything that was found recently that would fit (please correct me if I err in this regard). If it is, however, it should be clear from the above that it piles speculation upon speculation and really cannot be reliably used as evidence for the mysterious ‘disappearance’ of the Legio IX Hispana. We should also point out however, that there is evidence that the Legio didn’t actually ‘disappear’ when it is said to have.  Jona Lendering has an excellent overview of the Legio VIIII Hispana‘s history and it seems possible, if not likely, that it may have been in existence down to the early 160s A.D..

Alas Poor Boris … I Feel Your Pain (sort of)

Poor Boris Johnson … another Classicist trying to manage in an increasingly unclassical world. He uses a word which is common enough in our discipline — euergetism — and the Daily Mail feels a need to gloss the term for the teeming millions. Some excerpts:

The super-rich must pay for schools and hospitals to stop the gap between rich and poor in recession-hit Britain becoming as big as it was in Victorian days, Boris Johnson has warned.

Drawing on his background as a Classics scholar, the London Mayor called for a ‘greater sense of euergetism’ – a word derived from Classical Greek that means philanthropy.


It is not the first time that Mr Johnson, who studied Classics at Oxford University, has used his encyclopaedic knowledge of the Ancient World to illuminate his arguments.

He drew again on his classical heritage when asked his political hero and villain.

His hero was Pericles, the great Athenian democrat, orator and general.

As his villain he picked Alcibiades, a Greek statesman renowned for his treachery.

Both men lived in the 5th Century BC.

Asked if he thought he would succeed David Cameron, Mr Johnson said: ‘I haven’t got a cat’s chance in hell of becoming Prime Minister,’ before adding mischievously: ‘As I’ve said before, if I was called from my plough to serve in head office, then obviously I would do my best.’

This is yet another classical reference – in this case to Cincinnatus, a Roman aristocrat who left Rome to work on a small farm before returning triumphantly to the city to lead its defence against invasion in the 5th Century BC.


The term euergetism was coined by French historian A. Boulanger, who derived it from a Greek word meaning ‘I do good things’ and describes ‘the practice of notables to distribute a part of their wealth to hoi polloi’.

The Oxford Companion To Classical Civilisation says that euergetism is ‘a socio-political phenomenon of voluntary gift-giving to the ancient community embracing the beneficence of Hellenistic kings and Roman emperors, whose subjects saw such philanthropy as a cardinal virtue of rulers’.

Tim Cornell’s book Bread And Circuses: Euergetism And Municipal Patronage In Roman Italy explains that: ‘Cities in the ancient world relied on private generosity to provide many basic amenities, as well as expecting leading citizens to pay for “bread and circuses” – free food and public entertainment.’

The term euergetism is very close in meaning to another word with Greek origins – philanthropy, which means ‘the love of humanity’ and is used more commonly to describe charitable and other good works funded by the rich.

For what it’s worth, I’ve always thought ‘philanthrophy’ was a rather wishy-washy word, and more suited to donations to museums and the like. Euergetism is more directed at actually doing good things for one’s fellow human being.

Hellenistic Tomb from Apamea

Tantalizingly-brief item from Zawya:

The Hama Archeology Department on Wednesday unearthed an ancient burial chamber dating back to the Hellenistic period.

The burial chamber, which was discovered during maintenance work in the historic city of Apamea, contains 6 graves dug into the earth, one of which contains pottery fragments from a cone-shaped burial urn.

According to custom during the Hellenistic period, these funeral urns were placed alongside the deceased’s body alongside some of their earthly possessions.